Per new regulations published by the United Kingdom’s (UK) Department for Transport (DfT), a rule enforced during the pandemic allowing airlines to retain slots despite their low utilization will be gone starting with the upcoming summer season.
The so-called 80:20 slot rule, which was waived during COVID, means that airlines will have to use 80% of their take-off slots if they want to keep them. According to the DfT, the decision was justified because passenger numbers at UK airports reached 85% of 2019 levels by October 2022.
“The government remains focused on reducing disruption and ensuring a positive passenger experience for those taking a well-earned break this summer. As part of that, airlines will be able to hand back up to 5% of their slots before the start of the season, to help plan realistic schedules and avoid last-minute cancellations,” the government announcement read.
The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) summer season kicks in on March 26, 2023, coinciding with the slot regulation changes in the UK.
“Today, I can confirm that slots rules will return to normal this summer. But we’re maintaining the safety net introduced during COVID and airlines can hand back 5% of slots to help minimize last-minute cancellations,” stated Mark Harper, Secretary of State for Transport, at the Airport Operators’ Association’s (AOA) annual conference on January 31, 2023.
However, the UK government will be more flexible in its regulation of slots. For example, if both ends of a route are affected by COVID-19-related restrictions, airlines will not have to operate empty or “ghost flights” to retain their slots.
For airlines to retain their slots for the next equivalent season, carriers must operate a certain number of flights or else they will lose them. Companies are also able to trade, lease, and sell slots. For example, Etihad Airways leased British Airways 40 slots at London Heathrow Airport (LHR) for the summer 2023 season. The transaction took place on January 27, 2023.
In 2016, it was reported that Oman Air paid $75 million for a pair of slots at LHR, while Air New Zealand managed to snag up to $21 million for slots at the same airport in 2020.
The European Commission (EC), meanwhile, planned to extend the slot rule relief until at least March 26, 2024.